A peek into the pages of an upcoming feature, “The Hunters of the Dead: Witches War”

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The following bit is the first chapter of Nicholas Paschall first book with Stitched Smile Publications, the first part of a trilogy. So rejoice! Read and enjoy the dark fantasy/paranormal thriller that he’s crafted for you, and leave a comment below about what you think of this coming attraction.

Happy Friday the 13th!

Chapter One

The wind howled like the wayward cries of a madman as it came whipping down from the high mountains, flushing the valley with the bitter cold that all winters bring. The herd of Blackhorned Elk huddled together, eyes darting about, wary against the creatures that stalked the night and the creatures that would try and steal the young they had encircled within their ranks. Their great horns, easily wide enough to handle even the largest of bears or the nimblest of wolves, were covered in thin sheets of frost, icicles dangling from their shaggy coats which provided them some measure of protection from the primordial cold that seeped through the Wetterstein Mountains every winter’s night.

The largest of the elk, a male that stood twice as tall as a man, raised his head as, over the shrieking winds, he heard the movements of the beast the herd had come to fear. He snorted loudly, drawing the other males’ attention, shifting his horns slightly to motion into the darkness around them. The woods were heavy with snow and ice, but the hoof-carved paths were still passable to those long of leg and strong of spirit. Unlike the strange fire-walkers of the stone forests dotting the mountains, the Great Elk could see well in the dark. Sitting at just the edge of his vision was the horror that had stalked them for the past four nights.

The tall, hairless beast stood not on four legs, but two, like the fire-walkers that lived in the fake caves. But unlike the tiny creatures, this being’s arms reached the ground as it stood, stooped over a snow-covered boulder, watching the herd as a hungry wolf might. This creature was far more dangerous than any wolf the Great Elk had ever encountered however; it moved with an almost unfathomable speed, sometimes using its gangly arms to grip a low branch and swing forward as it would race alongside the herd. Other times, it would vanish from sight, leaving not a trace of its existence.

The herd had been unable to sleep due to this creature’s relentless pursuit, keeping pace with their own, always allowing its presence to be felt. The last time the herd had relaxed, it had claimed two calves, one in each massive hand, before leaping off into the darkness. The tortured cries of the young had lasted all night, and the Great Elk had done all it could to keep the cows from going out into the darkness to save them.

He knew a trap when he heard one.

Just as dawn had broken this morning, the calves had finally fallen silent.  Upon further investigation, the herd had been distraught to find both hanging from the trees a few yards from where they’d been standing all night, pinned to the thick branches by their own splintered ribs. Chests left wide open and with organs now lying in rime-laden pools beneath them, the dead calves had stared at them with glassy eyes full of confusion and fear. Large sections of their backs and legs were missing, torn free by the beast’s horrible maw, though a good deal of glistening meat still sat frozen on the twin corpses, untouched by the strange creature.

Now it sat there, leaning back on the corded muscles of its haunches, watching the herd’s every movement with six yellow- slitted eyes positioned around the creature’s vertical maw. Dribbling with fetid saliva from blackened teeth, the beast scooped snow into its right hand, a wide and cruel tool ending in three barbed talons, letting the wet mess slide through into a messy pile at its hooves. The saliva held a dribble of blood, the teeth held pieces of fur stuck between the jagged enamel.

The Great Elk could feel his muscles tense up, the heat of anger rushing through his veins as blood roared in his ears. He couldn’t stand to know that the one who’d killed the young of his herd was standing before him, playing with the snow as if they were a forest fairy. Huffing, the Great Elk glared at the yellow eyes, clenching its teeth as the beast gave a disinterested sigh.

Rage exploded behind the Great Elk’s vision! How dare any creature ignore me? he thought, pawing at the permafrost with cloven hoof. He could hear the grumbling of the other males of his herd, their horns rattling in the early morning as they rustled back and forth. Rearing up onto his back legs, the Great Elk let out a great war cry before coming down with a thunderous crash, sending snow and packed earth into the air in a cloud of frozen hell. The beast was taunting him…

Well, it would taunt him no longer!

The Great Elk burst into a sprint, head lowered. Three young bucks were right beside him, running headlong in a straight formation they had used several times to trample wolves that had proven too brave or hungry for their own good. A small tree shattered into splinters as the Great Elk’s left horn caught it, severing it at shoulder height and sending it crashing down into the deeper recesses of the forest. Several more joined it as half a ton of solid muscle rushed the strange monster, which had yet to even acknowledge the charging menace.

And then it was upon them, leaping over their sharpened horns and hardened skulls, slashing at the flanks of two of the brave young bucks. Its talons ignored their frozen shell of fur and thickened hide, tearing deep gashes open with but the barest of ease, the air now taking on the sickening scent of copper and fear. One of the young bucks didn’t even have a chance to shriek in pain, as the beast was immediately on him, gripping his horns and twisting violently about, snapping his neck like so many dry twigs beneath a hoof. As he twisted the dislocated skull of the cooling corpse about, he rammed it into the chest of another young elk, causing the sharpened bits of horn to pierce through the Great Elk’s surprised brother in a crimson spray of freezing mist, rising and painting the gray monster’s face with splattered traces of fur and meat.

The Great Elk watched in horror as the beast dispatched the last of his comrades, breaking its back with a mighty leap from the connected corpses of his younger brethren. The buck yelped in agony as his upper spine snapped just before his head was torn free from cords of thickened muscle and sinew, only to be tossed aside as the monster stepped down from the collapsing body, staring with all six yellow slits into to the eyes of the Great Elk.

And for the first time in countless seasons, the Great Elk of the herd felt fear. As he tried desperately to gore the offending monster, he howled in anguish and frustration as he felt his front two legs snap, dropping him suddenly to the sloshy red snow with a sickening splat. Kicking and bucking in vain, all he could do was wail and cry, doing his best to let the herd know he’d failed in his charge, failed to keep them safe, and that they needed to run before they too became the creature’s next meal.

As the warmth of life slowly gave way to the chill of winter, the cold snow pressed around the Great Elk’s muzzle, stained red with his own blood, he could hear the crunching of the snow as the monster slowly lumbered its way around his body, until the great hooves stopped in the Elk’s direct line of vision. The pain was intense, and from his vantage point on the ground he could only see one of his severed legs, but the Great Elk could sense the predatory eyes wandering over his body, wondering where next would be the best to cut into, where the Great Elk had the juiciest selections of savory flesh he could sample … Yes, this beast was a predator, the Great Elk knew.

The Great Elk was to die and he knew it, because he’d been too sure of himself and his own strength. His younger brethren, too, had fallen prey to their own confidence, foolishly rushing the monster that had proven too cunning for them. Their pride had led to his, and by extension the herd’s, destruction. This, the Great Elk knew …

And then the Great Elk knew nothing.

+++

The Beast snarled as he pulled his hoof noisily from the crushed mess that had once been the strange animal’s skull, enjoying the sucking noise accompanying the sensation of the creature’s gray matter sticking messily to his sharpened hooves. He had snuck into the valley weeks ago, and had been overjoyed at the fact that it was so full of life despite the freezing conditions of the season. Everywhere he went he could find animals to hunt, from the great horned deer to the gigantic bears. He’d even had the chance to stalk some creatures like the Hell Hounds back home, great gray-furred creatures made of nothing but toughened sinew and fangs.

Drooling with satisfaction, he yanked one of the great antlers free of the fractured mess, shaking it a few times to cleanse it of the hanging flesh and fur still connected to it—a worthy trophy for his growing collection! On his third night in this strange mountain chain, he’d located a suitable lair, a large cave that had several smaller chambers leading deeper into the mountainside. They’d become a new shrine to pain and pride, two of the greater sins the Beast thrived upon; he’d been slowly creating an arsenal of primitive torture devices, carved from the harvested bones of his kills as well as numerous small tables and chairs that would serve him well in future endeavors, when he finally worked up the courage to try and raid one of the human settlements dotting the valleys in the surrounding mountains.

The Beast grinned at the thought of his future victims, lazily lapping at the sizzling hot spittle leaking from his mouth with a sinuous tongue. But no, he decided, pulling back to the here and now. Now was not the time to daydream, not with dawn approaching. He’d made do the past few days by burrowing into large snow banks to avoid the harsh rays of the sun. With terrible thoughts of torture and pain echoing throughout his dirty mind, the Beast grabbed hold of one of the deer’s remaining legs, slinging the heavy beast over his shoulder onto his sloped back: home was but a few minutes away if he could travel through the trees, and dragging the beast back would most definitely leave a suspicious trail that he wanted to avoid.

For now.

While the Beast didn’t fear humans—He feared nothing!—he knew revealing his presence now could lead to complications.

And the Beast would not have any of that.

The Beast grunted as he leaped into the air, one clawed hand clamped over his heavy burden while the other sought purchase on a frost-coated branch. His hooves dug into the bark of the trunk with the ease of fire through wax as he steadily scaled the tall tree until reaching a branch sturdy enough to hold him aloft.

Down below, he could see the rest of the herd of Elk moving in to sniff at the corpses of their heroes, looking about in wonder at what had felled their greatest. Their fear wafted high and thick, filling the Beast, feeding the hungering demon. He lingered for a few moments longer, allowing their fear to fill his gullet, satiating a great thirst he had been harboring for days now. The two younglings had served well enough for an evening’s worth of entertainment, but their fear had vanished far too quickly, instead replaced by the sense of morbid confusion that all animals seemed to get when being tortured.

They just didn’t understand, the poor things …

A sharp crack echoed through the silent woods, causing the Beast to whip his head about, spreading out his senses in hopes of catching a new source of fun that he could bring home with him. Dozens of small rodents and birds were close by, hiding within their hollow burrows in the ground and in the trees, and the Elk were milling about below, not sure what they should do now that their alpha had been slain… but nothing else.

Strange, the Beast thought as his eyes scanned the forest floor. What made that noise then?

The answer came in the form of a three-foot arrow snapping through the air, piercing straight through the meaty corpse of the elk hanging over the Beast’s shoulder, and into his chest cavity. The Beast howled to the sky, letting go of the elk so gravity could pull it from his back. He had no need of it now if he had humans to hunt!

Sadly, this was not a great idea (which the Beast quickly realized) as the great weight of the elk, which had been so carefully balanced on his shoulder during his ascent into the trees, was now drifting backward at an alarming rate. This wouldn’t be a problem if the damned javelin-for-an-arrow that had just struck him hadn’t pinned the animal into the Beast’s body as well. The Beast flailed his arms about in hopes of gaining balance, but to no avail; he toppled backward and began his second great fall from the sky (though this one was far less dramatic if the Beast took but a moment to ponder upon it).

He landed amid the grieving herd, slamming atop the corpse of one of the smaller horned deer with a pained grunt as the dead creature’s antlers dug into his side. Belly down, the Beast could only grunt again as three more titanic arrows screeched through the air, becoming embedded in his back. Growling, the Beast pushed himself onto his hooves and stood high, spreading his arms out wide, letting loose a bellowing roar. If the humans thought their meager arrows were of any consequence to him, they were sorely mistaken!

His eyes could see them now, their dark silhouettes concealed by the trees they stood by. Each wore a solid white smock over boiled leather jerkins, their faces covered by snow-white leather masks topped with wide-brimmed hats and ending in long, hooked noses. The Beast grew more excited as he took in the sight before him.

Ravens! he thought with excitement.

He had stumbled upon a secluded set of valleys that just so happened to house his mortal enemies, humanity’s last true hope at reclaiming their world … Oh the delicious irony! The Beast let loose a deep laugh, swatting at his knees as he fought to contain his mirth as blood bubbled through his mouth.

“You win little birds …” he shouted in Aramaic, already noting the tingling in his shoulder where the first arrow had pierced him. His prize package had absorbed the brunt of the arrow’s force. The following three arrows were muted in pain, the dull throbbing of anger rushing out of his body telling him he was bleeding more than he knew.

Raising a clawed hand, he waved it while flexing his fingers. He frowned when he realized the fingers barely moved when commanded.

The arrows had poison? the Beast thought, reaching over his shoulder to grab at one of the thick shafts. His fingers couldn’t wrap around the blood-slickened wood, nor could he feel his arm moving beyond what he could see. This is bad … The more I move, the faster it’s going to spread.

The Beast laughed, a deep guttural thing that had him belching forth blood in stringy clots. “Come on out and claim your prize!”

Their response was another volley of arrows into his chest. The Beast hissed in pleasure as the metal and wood sank deep past its thickened hide, the pain ebbing away as the poison spread.

“Have you no questions for me, little birds? I’ve heard tales of how you like to question us before killing us, in hopes of learning our ways,” the Beast continued, dropping to one knee as he lost control of his leg. “I would think you all have earned but a simple answer from me, for my carelessness.”

They remained as silent as they watched him collapse into the snow, remaining still until the Beast’s breathing rasped out heavy and labored.

“Nothing to ask, then?” he gasped, still shouting out to any who would listen. “Then do what would have saved your people centuries ago and seal the deal! Your sin of pride will be, and always has been, your downfall … As surely as it has been mine.”

Three more cracks echoed through the snow-laden woods, the last of the herd of Blackhorned Elk scattering as the Beast’s vision darkened.

And then the Beast knew nothing.

+++

The last three arrows they had fired into the demon had pierced its skull and neck, one going through the upper part of its mouth, another piercing one of its many eyes, the last embedding itself in its neck. Ivan would have to lecture Jonathan about his aim later, as the neck shot was virtually useless in any instance but this.

He motioned for Jonathan to move forward with him, using prepared hand signs to tell Samuel to keep guard. Sam nodded once before notching another arrow in his longbow, aiming straight at the great demon’s back while Jonathan moved forward with their commander. The Beast had been bellowing in its last few seconds of life, though for the life of him Ivan couldn’t understand it.

The elders back home said they all spoke the language of God, referring to it as the Old Tongue … He didn’t know about any of that though.

As they approached the demon’s prone form, Ivan stopped every few feet to look at the small green gem dangling from his wrist, hoping against hope it would continue to diminish in brightness. Rosary Beads, as the hunters liked to call them, glowed in the presence of evil, so the Elders said. As he’d held it around supposed sinners and serial killers alike and never seen so much as a spark, Ivan didn’t know how much evil it took to make the Beads glow. Ivan held them up, staring at the glowing wooden bead at the end of the Rosary.

“Sure, as hell light up around demons, don’t you?” Ivan said.

“What was that?” the other Raven asked, looking over at Ivan.

“Nothing,” Ivan said, tucking the Rosary Beads into his jerkin.

They weren’t the best security measure in the world, as the Rosary Beads couldn’t tell them where the intruding demon was or if it was one or a thousand of them; just that there was a demon close by, the light growing brighter the closer you got to them.

Despite their rather glaring fault in detection, they did have one added benefit that Ivan found particularly helpful: they didn’t shine around dead demons. And his dangling Rosary was growing dimmer by the second.

Jonathan slid a bit over some ice-slickened path, stumbling forward clumsily into his shoulder. Ivan glared at the younger man and shoved him back. “Dumb bastard! Stay back and be prepared for anything … I know this is your first night on the prowl, but that’s no excuse to be so damned stupid!”

Jonathan’s face was equally as covered by the long-beaked mask that all the hunters wore, but after years of staring into similar masks, one could sense the sneer behind the hood. “The demon’s dead, no need to be so paranoid, Ivan. What’s it gonna do, come back to life?”

“… Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Ivan quoted from memory, watching as the demon’s corpse slowly gathered small flecks of falling snow over its pierced hide. “You’ll find that anything we call a demon can surprise you. Better safe than sorry, you know?”

Jonathan remained silent as they stopped a few yards from the corpse. The Rosary dangling from Ivan’s wrist had finally grown dull, now merely a darkened green opal dangling from a silver chain in place of the blazing light that had been glowing for the past few days. Ivan heaved a sigh of relief, waving the all clear sign to Samuel, as well as an order to camp in the boughs of one of the many trees surrounding them; they deserved a rest after this hunt, and a day of sleep followed by a night under the stars worry free as they returned to the Nest would indeed be a fine gift.

“Hey,” Jonathan piped up, having approached the abomination’s corpse, kicking it idly with the tip of his boot. “Why’d it take the elk with it?”

Ivan merely shrugged as he pulled his crossbow over his shoulder. “Trophy probably. They tend to gather little trinkets, or parts, from the things they kill.”

“Why?” Jonathan asked, kneeling over the corpse, poking at it errantly with a heavy-hilted dagger. “Don’t they just exist to kill, to reap the souls of His children?”

Ivan fought back a sigh and enjoyed the confines of his own hood as he rolled his eyes at the little fanatic. Ivan was a Raven, a hunter of the supernatural, but he was hardly a believer in everything the old texts claimed.

“They live to hunt, yes, but they have lives outside of that,” Ivan answered after a few moments of watching the snow fall about, drifting lazily through the pitch black around them. “Most take up art, actually.”

“Art?” Jonathan asked with surprise, struggling to lift the dead demons heavy three-clawed hand.

“Well, what they call art, at least,” Ivan muttered with a shrug, still watching the snow fall, eyes wandering the horizon, in search of … something. “They derive sustenance from pain in the way we do from dry bread, but each demon craves something else, something far more sinister. They hunger for the emotional aspects of at least one of the seven sins.”

“Like envy and lust?” Jonathan asked with a hint of disgust, dropping the claw to the ground as if it had suddenly become something toxic.

Well, more toxic than it already was.

Ivan shrugged again. “Those are far rarer from what I’ve read; most feed off things like anger or fear, things that they can easily instill in victims  they take captive.”

“I didn’t know demons took captives,” Jonathan said with a low whistle, shuffling around the body to look at the creature’s ruined skull. “Cor, this thing is hideous.”

“Yeah, they tend to be a little disturbing to look at,” Ivan dryly commented as he walked past him, smacking him upside the head. “Just retrieve the arrows and sever the head; don’t need this thing pulling a resurrection on us. Plus, proof of a slain demon, easy sixty crowns for that.”

“That’s twenty a piece!” Jonathan exclaimed before pulling out his dagger, taking a firm grip of one of the arrows lodged in the skull to gain better access to the creature’s neck, and began sawing. “So, you think he has some captives?”

“What?” Ivan said, turning from the horizon to look at him, not understanding the question.

“Captives. You said they sometimes take captives,” Jonathan explained, nodding his head to the great elk carcass harpooned to the demons back. “And that they don’t eat meat, right? That’s why he’d bring the whole elk back, to feed captives. Otherwise, he’d just take the horns or something.”

“No, they never keep captives long … oh God, he must have someone with him!” Ivan suddenly realized, all plans of a relaxing trip back home now banished from his mind. “Look him over. Does he have any markings, like tattoos or anything?”

“Um … Yeah, one right here on the back of his claw, burnt into his skin. Why, what’s that mean?” Jonathan asked, looking at the prone hand in question, the strange diamond -shaped sigil burned into the gray hide standing stark against the white snow and the blackened, simmering blood that was seeping from the demon’s corpse as he was sawing into thick sinew and tendon.

Crack!

Jonathan launched back several feet as one of Samuel’s special arrows rocketed from the darkness, ramming into, and through, his chest just beneath his right clavicle with a sickening squelching noise akin to the bursting of a rotting pumpkin. He hit the ground rolling, limbs slack and eyes wide as the life ebbed from them forever.

Ivan rolled to the left as another arrow soared past him, crashing through the underbrush behind him. As he rolled up into a low crouch, he pulled a long—edged dagger and a small handheld crossbow—tools ill-advised for use against demons or the undead, but perfect for fighting a human.

“Samuel!” he shouted, his voice echoing through the woods as if to mock him, the only response being a sudden torrent of wind and snow whipping through the trees, further obscuring his vision.

“Samuel is mine now, Raven,” a voice silkily replied from the darkness, up close to where they’d left the younger man, a deep husky voice that could only belong to a woman. “Though I must thank you! I had wondered what I was going to end up calling him. It suits him.”

“Witch!” Ivan hissed, cursing his own arrogance and blatant laziness during the hunt. He could imagine his old commander in his head now, lecturing him to always check a demon for a mark, to see if it had a mortal servantor worse, a mortal master. If scarred, then they own man. If burned, then man owns them.

“Come now, little bird. You know you’ve lost; come out and meet the maker you so blindly follow. See if She has a reward for her favorite pet parakeet waiting for her in the afterlife,” the witch laughed, her voice coming from seemingly everywhere at once. Another arrow whizzed past Ivan, forcing him to seek cover behind a tree.

She’d either enthralled Samuel or, worse, killed him and reanimated him; either way, he was a lost cause now. The only thing he could worry about was making sure this witch died before dawn. They’d only stumbled upon the demon by luck, luck fueled by an old artifact that had alerted them of its presence. All the other Ravens would now think the threat was gone and merely wait for him to return, or assume the mission had killed his squad.

Ravens didn’t have a long life expectancy, so it wouldn’t be a farfetched idea.

But to leave a witch roaming free? That was totally unacceptable.

With the mad woman cackling from all directions, Ivan did his best to try and think of a way to kill her without himself dying in the process. Each of his crossbow bolts were essentially hollow wooden syringes full of an opium concentrate, while his dagger was coated in silver blessed by a priest on All Hallows’ Eve, smeared with a putty-like mixture of salt, lemon juice, and alcohol. Either weapon would do, assuming he could land a blow on her. Sadly, his skills against witches were hardly up to par.

That was what that fool Jonathan had been brought aboard for, due to his propensity for White Magic; now he was worthless to Ivan, just another cold corpse in a freezing pool of his own fluids, due to Ivan’s own arrogance.

A sudden smile graced his features as he stared at Jonathan’s corpse, a crazy idea coming to mind.

Hell, Ivan thought morbidly. It’s worth a shot!

+++

Jotelf grinned with unholy abandon as she twisted the mind of her newest consort with but a simple gesture of her hand, ordering him to ready his bow for another volley. The coming snow flurries from the high mountains were making it more of a chore than necessary, but Jotelf was more than willing to savor her victory over the supposed protectors of mankind.

The demon they’d slain had been an utter beast to control, and an even bigger pain to command, so while she was truly annoyed at the loss of the asset, she was relieved at the same time.

Ensnaring the demon had been a labor of love almost, leaving captured children out in vulnerable areas around a region well known for demonic activity. Whether a rift to Hell existed somewhere in those hills or it was merely a tribe of demons that had escaped the abyss, Jotelf didn’t care. She could remember slowly coaxing the demon away from its pack before slamming it with some of her most offensive spells, crackling waves of lightning and great mounds of animated earth ripped free from the ground used as battering rams. She’d had to kill three other demons that had been close by before crippling the one she ended up Branding that day, channeling the energies her Master funneled through her to overcome the beast’s formidable defenses.

Now, without the constant drain upon her magical reserves, she could begin tooling about with other branches of magic that had always interested her. Especially now that she had a whole mountain range of virtually defenseless test subjects, thanks to her well-spent efforts of slinking past the fortified wall undetected, a sheer wall cliff she’d ordered the demon to climb while holding onto her. It’d made a comment of how clumsy it could be, but hadn’t done anything; her control had been absolute.

Floating mere inches above the thick frosting of snow coating the forest floor, Jotelf’s lack of protective wear more than compensated by her own twisted magics, she drifted forward to gaze down the slope where her demon had fallen. Just before she was about to call out another taunt to her trapped prey, she gasped in shock and awe as she saw him jogging up the hill, a long spear held in one hand and a curved knife in the other.

“My, oh my, you are a stout one, aren’t you!” she cried with glee, thinking of all the wonderful games she could play with him. Tugging at Samuel’s strings, she smiled as she mentally ordered him to fire at will, reminding him to aim to wound, not kill.

Samuel loosed his arrow; the javelin sized projectile connected solidly with the lone Raven’s shoulder, causing him to stumble momentarily. His face, if not masked by the ridiculous hoods they all insisted on wearing, was blinded by the coming storm, the twisting winds roiling about them as if it were some behemoths heart beating, the howling winds too loud to even hear the Raven’s scream as the serrated arrowhead pierced his shoulder.

As Samuel cocked another arrow, Jotelf chose to end this charade once and for all, summoning forth her own internal energies into the physical realm, a tortured shriek filled the air as a crackling crimson orb began to form mere inches from her breast. She knew this spell well, having grown quite fond of it due to its explosive nature, and its propensity to cause the wounds of those that survived the blast to become infected.

“Goodbye, little bird. I wish I could say you were worth the effort, but I do ever so much hate lying,” she muttered to herself as she swatted the crackling orb towards the advancing form of her enemy, his spear and dagger held low as he tromped up the hill sluggishly. The orb lazily hovered before her before darting forward, bobbing to and fro like a firefly trying to escape the clutches of a hungry bat.

Her aim was off by a few inches, the static orb striking him solidly in the chest rather than near his head. The effect was roughly the same: with a piercing cry and a low keening wail the orb burst like an overripe melon, great arcs of crimson energy lashing out with a razors edge. A font of blood sprayed from the gaping wound where his chest once was, scattered pieces of twisted leather and bits of bone exploding forth from the point of contact, throwing the insolent man back, his weapons falling from hands that were likely now dead.

The howls of the damned filled her ears, a private moment between her and her unholy patron that occurred whenever she tapped into her infernal powers. She shivered with untold lust as the gentle caress of her Lord swept across her voluptuous features, down and over her curves like the hands of a lover. He was excited, she could tell.

Excited about receiving the impending new soul to sup upon. The foolish archer she’d ensnared in her enchantments would remain with her for the time being, as these cretins had managed to dispatch her personal guard and she needed a new one. But her newly disemboweled Raven now dying in the snow?

Meat for her Master.

Whispering the forbidden words of power, she stalked closer to the steaming corpse before her, once again gathering her mystical energies to serve her sadistic desires; the soul of the recently departed lingered for a time, and for one with the right knowledge, and the right skills, said soul could be bound into service to a witch of significant enough power, to be used however she wished.

Her power was more than enough to ensnare the loosened spirit of this cocky warrior, and a new soul for her infernal master would promise her a night of passion that she would not soon forget. The very thought of it brought a fluttering to her stomach and sudden warmth to her core … Licking her lips sensually, she kneeled by the corpse, smiling at the work her spell had done.

The man’s armor had spared him the indignity of being blown to pieces, though only just. All his ribs were charred, with great scores of lines running along them as if someone had taken a knife to them. His insides were a cesspool of liquefied organs, a steaming cauldron of human waste bubbling from the sudden heat of her fiery orb, the hole wide enough for a child to slip through. Muttering the incantation slowly, she dipped a hand into her robe and pulled out a crystal vial, dipping it into the impromptu soup she had made from her victim.

Dawn was quickly approaching, and she had yet to have anything to eat, thanks largely in part to the pesky birds swooping in on her hunter. While perhaps not the most wholesome of foods she had eaten, she was no stranger to the flesh of man, and found herself on occasion quite hungry in a way that only a roasted spit of seared bicep could sate.

She finished her spell, waiting to feel the euphoric praise of her Lord wash over her once more … But found herself lacking her desired reward.

I know I cast the spell right, I’ve done it a hundred times! she thought desperately. While completely loyal to her Lord, she knew He was not one to be trifled with, and would be expecting a soul from her soon. While the hours of passion His corporeal presence could offer her was well worth any risk, the punishments He often doled out were not.

The only way the spell would fail would be if he’d already moved on… But I just killed him!

Thwip!

Thwip!

Thwip!

Bursting from the bubbling stew of bile and sinew, three small wooden bolts launched themselves out of her victim’s chest and into her own, forming a tight trio of thin needle-tipped crossbow bolts. Before her shocked eyes, small clockwork mechanisms at the end of each bolt began to whiz and whir, cogs spinning as the needles pumped something into her chest… something bad.

Desperately she tore at the syringes, but her vision was already swimming from whatever was hidden within the darts. Vaguely, she could see a blood-soaked arm rise from her kill’s chest, before another came around and gripped the limp body. Throwing it to the side, a slightly smoldering Raven got to his feet, his mask pulled free from his head as his hat fell away. A thick Slavic nose sat above a closely cropped goatee, a long loosely bound ponytail dangling wetly behind him. His eyes, an artic gray, gazed into hers as he gave her a small, if tired, smile.

“Looks like pride won the day once more, eh, witch?” he said with a deep baritone. “Had you just killed Samuel instead of revealing yourself like that, you could have easily taken us all out. But instead, you’re now our captive.”

Desperately struggling against the drugs pumping through her veins, Jotelf stumbled back drunkenly, leaning heavily against a warped tree as she took deep rasping breaths. Her mind’s eye was swimming and unfocused, so weakened by her condition she could hardly even strum the threads of magic connecting her to Samuel, who could easily resist her siren’s calls now that they lacked her normal strength of will.

“You taught me a valuable lesson, witch, and for that I’m going to spare your life,” the man continued, slowly easing himself from the corpse of his fallen friend. “The way I figure it, Sammy and I should take you to meet some of our friends. After all, you you came all this way, so we can turn you over to the Elders and they can decide what to do with you. Between your pet’s head and you yourself, Sam and I have probably racked up an easy two-hundred crown.”

“Just … l-like a crow …” she slurred, struggling to keep her eyes open, to remain focused. “P-p-pick on the dead … like your f-friend t-t-there.”

A look of sorrow briefly flashed across his features before being covered up. The man shrugged, stepping out of the torso fully now. He must have been walking behind him the whole time, using his friend’s cold corpse as a puppet. “Jonathan was a good man, a man who helped rid the world of evil. His wife and unborn child will be receiving a cut of what would rightfully be his, of that I can assure you.”

“I … know … this …” she gasped, her vision growing dimmer by the second. “By the end of this … I’ll have you on your back, screaming … for mercy.”

And she did know that … at least before she faded into the darkness and then knew nothing.

 

And so it goes on in Chapter Two and more, where we learn of many more secrets and tricks of the world where the supernatural is natural. Ghosts and demons are a part of our world as much as the Blackhorned Elk, and while they come from a different realm, they can be dealt with in a precise fashion that can be measured, studied, and repeated.

To see more of Nicholas Paschall, you can visit his website where he posts stories three times a week.

The Nickronomicon

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